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Fisher's Flimsies

In the early 1900s, nearly 90 per cent of Australian currency was in the form of coins rather than banknotes. To emphasise that the 10 shilling banknote was equivalent to a half sovereign gold coin, it was overprinted in red with the words ‘Half Sovereign’ from 1914.

In contrast with coinage, the banknotes of fine linen paper deteriorated quickly with use. They were ridiculed by the newspapers as ‘Fisher's Flimsies’ in criticism of Prime Minister Andrew Fisher's enthusiasm for the new currency. Members of the Commonwealth Liberal Party had been opposed to the introduction of the series owing to its perceived disadvantage to private enterprise, and the loss of profits that had been obtained previously by private banks.1

Being the most circulated banknote, the 10 shilling note was also thought to carry germs and spread disease. As a result of inflation during the First World War, there was an increased issue of paper currency which helped to accelerate its eventual acceptance.

Front of the 10 shillings banknote, overprinted with Half Sovereign.

Reserve Bank of Australia Archives, NP-004261

Emergency Issue

The £1 banknote, known as the Rainbow Note, 1914.

Reserve Bank of Australia Archives, NP-003972.

As currency became scarcer with the outbreak of the First World War, an emergency £1 banknote was introduced in 1914. Brightly coloured, it was known informally as the Rainbow Note. Although the banknote could be printed expediently owing to the absence of security features, it was soon counterfeited and withdrawn from April 1915.

As the demand for silver increased with the war, coins threatened to become more valuable than their denomination. A banknote for five shillings was prepared to replace the coin during 1916, and it became the first Australian banknote to include a portrait of the British monarch. The threat abated, however, and the banknote was never issued.

The unissued five shillings banknote, with a portrait of King George V, 1916.

Reserve Bank of Australia Archives, NP-003961.

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